Friday, June 23, 2017

A Wicked and Adulterous Generation

On one occasion the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus saying, “Master, we would see a sign from thee.”  Jesus responded to them with this famous statement: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Matt. 12:38-39).  At a different time we read again, “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.”  Part of the Savior’s response to them was, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed” (Matt. 16:4).  What is it that relates the adulterer with the sign seeker?  The Doctrine and Covenants student manual gives this suggestion: “When we understand this process, we can see why sign seeking is condemned. Someone who demands outward evidence of the power of God as a condition for believing is seeking to circumvent the process by which faith is developed. He wants proof without price. As with the adulterer, he seeks the results without accepting the responsibility. Thus it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks signs.”   

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Temple and Worldly Possessions

Hugh Nibley wrote, “Whether in Kirtland, Far West, Nauvoo, or the valleys of the West, the [Saints’] hearts have been set on activities and observances that, in terms of modern-day progress and success, make no sense at all.  The whole temple economy is grotesquely out of place in the present world; there is nothing the least bit practical about it.  It is a school to wean us away from the things of the world” (Abraham in Egypt, p. 250).  One of the great lessons and purposes of the temple is indeed to help us to overcome the things of the world, or to use the words of the Lord to Emma, to help us “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10).  In the temple we spend time doing things that indeed make no sense to the world and which do not in any obvious way give us an increase of the kind of physical possessions that the world seek for.  In fact, the temple is one of the few places we can go and get rid of all signs of wealth and poverty that differentiate us. There are no poor or rich in the temple; money plays no role as we all wear simple white clothing and learn the same things together, and surely this is symbolic of the kind of equality the Lord wants His people to have outside the temple.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Tell No Man

After Jesus healed the man who had roamed the tombs possessed of devils, he wanted to stay with Jesus.  But the Savior said, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19).  This was actually a very unusual request for the Savior to make and is one of the few times—at least in the accounts we have—when the Savior instructed someone who was healed to go and tell people about it.  In nearly all instances He asked either the person healed or the group watching to remain silent about what had happened.  For example, after a leper came to Him and He healed him, “Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them” (Matt. 8:4).  On another occasion after Christ healed the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, “Her parents were astonished: but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done” (Luke 8:56).  After He healed a blind man, the Savior “sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town” (Mark 8:26).  When one who was deaf and “had an impediment in his speech” was brought to Him at the coasts of Decapolis, He healed him such that “his ears were open, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.”  We then read that “he charged them that they should tell no man” (Mark 7:32-36).  Why was it that He so often told the recipient of His blessings to tell no one about it? 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Fourteen Year Mission

We really don’t have very many details about the great mission to the Lamanites that the sons of Mosiah and their associates undertook.  We have a lot of information about a few stories, but they were there among the Lamanites for many years and there is much that wasn’t recorded.  They left for their mission about 91 BC, and they met back up with Alma as they were journeying back to Zarahemla about 77 BC.  Describing this return Mormon said, “They had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites” (Alma 17:4).  That seems to suggest that they never went back to Zarahemla during the whole period.  It was indeed an incredible sacrifice and show of love on their part, and their example is an inspiration to all missionaries today. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Promise of Health

At the end of the Word of Wisdom, we have this famous promise from the Lord: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones” (D&C 89:18).  This is actually a quote from Proverbs from the same chapter in which He tells us to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart.”  We read, “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.  It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8).  What exactly does the Lord mean that He will grant us health to the navel and marrow to the bones?  Does it mean that we are promised to be in great health because we live the Word of Wisdom? 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Savior's Yes and No Answers

In the book I’m listening to called Essentialism, the author Greg McKeown suggested that a crucial skill for us to learn in life is to say “No.”  What he means is that we need to be able to refuse to participate in activities that aren’t crucial for us and focus only on what really matters.  Too many of us, he pointed out, will by default simply say “Yes” to any reasonable invitation that comes our way without considering the tradeoff we are making by that response: we are potentially taking time away from more important things and losing control over our own time.  As I’ve considered his advice, I’ve thought about the Savior.  How did He respond to different invitations on how to use His time?  When did He say “No” and when did He say “Yes” to the requests from people around Him? 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Work to Do

I’ve been thinking recently about my own purpose or mission in life and the kinds of activities that should be most important to me.  There are so many good things that we can fill our lives with that it becomes very hard at times to know what the best things are.  As Elder Oaks taught, “Just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it.”  So we have to figure out what the very best pursuits and activities are for us to be involved in and which will ultimately help us do what the Lord wants us to do and became who He wants us to become.  Joseph Smith recorded this interchange with the angel Moroni that helped him start to see his purpose in life: “God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (JSH 1:33).  Joseph indeed had a work to accomplish from the Lord, and he spent his whole life seeking to fulfill his responsibility in restoring the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel.  The verse begs the question then for each of us individually, what work does God have for us to do?  What is our greatest mission in life? 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Give Me Thine Honor

The Lord told Moses of this conversation with Satan in the premortal existence: “That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1).  He also told Joseph Smith, “And it came to pass that Adam, being tempted of the devil—for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency” (D&C 29:36).  Both of those mention how Satan requested of the Father to have his “honor”.  Definitions of the word honor include “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions” and “high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank.”  We discussed this a while back in Sunday School and the point was made that one cannot give another his or her honor.  Like faith or love or testimony, you can’t simply hand over to another person your honesty and integrity and goodness and great respect that others have for you.  Satan wanted the honor God had without being the person God was, and that is impossible.  In the second reference above God said that His honor was his power, something I take to mean that God’s power comes to Him because of His absolute goodness and uprightness and integrity.  In short, God’s perfection is what brings Him honor, and Satan could not get the latter without having the former.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Difficulty of the Plates

Moroni wrote frequently about his weaknesses in being able to write on the plates that would become the Book of Mormon.  He said, “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him.”  He then gave us a clue as to why he felt so inadequate.  He said, “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.  And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record” (Mormon 9:31-33).  I think realized this morning why Moroni said that there wouldn’t be imperfections in the record if they could have written in Hebrew (or their version of it): that’s the language that he and the Nephites spoke.  When Nephi started his writing he told us the record would be “in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2).  I understand that to mean that he was writing in Egyptian characters, but the manner of speech would be what the Jews spoke, or Hebrew.  It would be like me writing using Chinese characters but staying true to English grammar since that’s what I speak.  From Moroni’s comments I think we understand that both the Hebrew and the Egyptian were altered over their 1000 year history—which we would expect—and that what the Nephites spoke was a derivation of the original Hebrew that Lehi and his family spoke.  This means, I believe, that Moroni was telling us that he was not writing in the language that he spoke: he wrote in this reformed Egyptian that the other prophets had used because it was apparently more concise and required less plates.  But that meant that it was much harder for him to write because it was not the language he was used to speaking.  No wonder he told us that they did “stumble because of the placing of [their] words”—I feel the same way whenever I try to write in French; the effort is far greater than when writing in English (Ether 12:25).  And Moroni likely had much less training in writing than others before him because he grew up in such a tumultuous time as his people were on the brink of destruction.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Taking Time For Communion

Yesterday I read an interesting article about an LDS author named Greg McKeown who has proposed a way of living called “essentialism.”  He said that as members of the Church as we read the scriptures we are prone to “see just those stories that say, ‘You’ve got to do more.’ I might ignore all of the scriptures that talk about meditation…. We don’t talk about meditation. We’re too busy doing everything else.”  He further commented on the Savior’s way of life: “It is breathtaking to me what he didn’t do in his earthly ministry. You think about all of the places, from his birth until his death, all the places he didn’t visit, all the people he didn’t heal....  What did he do? A 40-day fast out in the wilderness. Why did he do that? Why was he off on the boat? He’s trying to create space to figure out what does Heavenly Father want from him.”  I really like that perspective, and I believe it is true that we often miss the messages in the scriptures that tell us to slow down, to ponder, to take time to figure out the will of the Lord for us.  This is so essential, at least according to the Prophet Joseph Smith, that one of the three things “necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation” included “an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.”